In This Together

High school, sophomore year, health class. The kid who sat next to me wrote the same date on every assignment our teacher handed to us. May 17, 1965. Over and over. Day after day he scribbled his name and that one singular day across the top of his papers. It confused me because my birthday is on May 17, just 14 years further into the future than his repetitive calendar selection.

By mid October, curiosity overwhelmed me so I asked him the purpose for writing that specific date on all of our worksheets. “Because it’s Trent Reznor’s birthday.” He sounded offended that I wasn’t previously aware, but once he provided the answer, it all made sense.

This kid dressed like no one else at our school. He wore ultra-wide leg black JNCO jeans before that brand was popular. It contained more pockets than any human would conceivably ever need and was adorned with an assortment of straps, chains, and enough metal objects to concern a TSA worker. His leather jacket was threadbare and had the NIN logo printed on cloth and safety pinned to the back. Other less memorable patches haphazardly covered the sleeves and the spaces where you might find a name tag. Spiked hair, fingernails painted black, studded collar. He looked like Hot Topic’s first and biggest fan.

His revelation of Trent Reznor’s birthdate connected my brain to the letters affixed between his shoulders: NIN - Nine Inch Nails. Reznor was the lead vocalist and this kid idolized this band. He dressed to show his fandom and memorialized his devotion on every homework assignment. Their song Closer had been released to radio the spring of our freshman year; by the time we started life on the MPHS campus, it was on regular rotation on MTV and KNDD.

At 15, I wasn’t a fan. The vulgar chorus of Closer scandalized the trying-too-hard teenaged version of me who was still entrenched in conservative evangelical culture. It was the music of heathens that good Christian boys shouldn’t listen to. As I got older, my music tastes matured. A few years later, NIN recorded The Perfect Drug and I was intrigued. When they released The Fragile in ‘99, I was impressed. By the time With Teeth came out six years later, I was hooked.

In the middle of this era, the band released a single called We’re In This Together, an aggressive paean to raw determination and a defiant middle finger held up into the face of discouragement, angry and empowering at the same time. It contained the perfect tempo for exercising at the gym, hard hitting and motivating, enough to keep you moving through pain and exhaustion of an intense workout.

Over the years, the song has taken on new meaning for me. This is the sign of a great songwriter, when they can pen words that mean one thing when you’re 20 and something completely different when you’re 40.

This last year hasn’t been an easy one. It started with a car crash and we’ve been on our toes ever since trying to hold it all together. While we have had cause to celebrate, life has a way skewing toward complicated. Over the last couple months, we discovered mold inside bales from a recent hay delivery, had a truck break down in the middle of nowhere stranding us in darkness while waiting on a tow truck, and put down a pair of horses. School has been a challenge as Christian navigates his first year of high school and we’ve struggled to keep Chloe focused. We’re working to save up money to fund Christmas and a destination wedding, then our washing machine quit working and I received some disappointing news from my attorney. In a phrase coined by a younger generation: adulting is hard.

Thankfully, I have an amazing partner walking through this journey with me. We encounter setbacks and we recover. We hit roadblocks and find a detour. She is raw determination in human form. Every time Annie texts me, “It’ll be OK, we got this,” I hear this song playing in my head. As she does her best to ease my fears, my internal karaoke machine begins to sing Trent’s lyrics. “You and me, we're in this together now. None of them can stop us now. We will make it through somehow. You and me, if the world should break in two. Until the very end of me. Until the very end of you. When all our hope is gone we have to hold on.”

We’re In This Together no longer sounds angry or defiant to me. Instead, it sounds like love, the kind of love that is committed through all of the better and worse that life has to offer. It is a love that endures all things. In heathen music good Christian boys shouldn’t listen to, I’ve found the biblical definition of love.

Though industrial beats, distorted guitars, and strained vocals, I hear echoes of devotion. You and me, we’re in this together now. Because of love, it’s patient and kind. None of them can stop us now. It keeps no record of wrongs. We will make it through somehow. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Until the very end of me. Until the very end of you. Love never fails.

Whatever challenges the future holds for Annie and me, I know it will be OK. We got this because we’re in this together.

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